“Ardern in running for Nobel Peace Prize”, the headline in the NZ Herald’s Monday edition proclaimed.
We learn from the text of the accompanying comment piece by the Professor of Law at Waikato University, Alexander Gillespie, that the PM, Jacinda Ardern, is rated as second favourite, but a bit behind the front-runner, young climate change activist Greta Thunburg.
Gillespie says that although Ardern does not command the same global media coverage as Thunburg, the depth of her response to the Christchurch massacre on March 15 has made her in the eyes of many the best candidate for the award.
“The sincerity, empathy and compassion she displayed towards the families and their Muslim was unique in an age when tolerance, respect and reconciliation are rare”.
Gillespie argues her legislative and policy agenda, from the reform of the gun laws, to the Royal Commission to find out how the risk slipped past the authorities, through to the international initiative in the Christchurch Call to tether the worst parts of the internet, is “ground-breaking”.
Some may quibble that Ardern failed to display the same sort of empathy and compassion to those who levelled sexual harassment allegations against a Labour Party staffer in her office. And even though the policy agenda initiated after the Christchurch massacre might appear to be ground-breaking, the gun law reform, for one, has achieved only a bungled outcome.
But Point of Order accepts such quibbles would be submerged in the blaze of publicity for NZ if Ardern were to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
New Zealanders have always inclined to the view that their leaders – particularly those from Labour governments – punch above their weight on the international stage: from Peter Fraser, through Norman Kirk and then David Lange, more recently Helen Clark—and now Jacinda Ardern.
And Ardern continually made the headlines on her mission to the UN last week when her schedule included 18 bilaterals (including her first with President Donald Trump), nine speeches, two major announcements, two US media appearances and one press conference.
So while the government she leads looks increasingly inept as it deals with its domestic agenda, and its efforts to create a sense of “well-being” are evoking criticism from even the ranks of left-leaning lobby groups, Ardern’s international aura may sustain its poll ratings as NZ heads towards the next election.
It shows again how the power and influence of prime ministers are dependent not so much on the political skill practised by the incumbents or the effectiveness of the policy reforms initiated by them, but by the accidents of history: in Ardern’s case, the Christchurch massacre.